Well, that’s that then. A wonderful World Cup decided by a wonderful goal.
Mario Gotze’s sublime chest control and finish was just another entry into a high-quality highlights reel from Brazil 2014.
This was the most enjoyable tournament since Italia 90, where the country’s passion for football infused the competition. Brazil even managed to surpass that – and whereas in South Africa four years ago free-flowing entertain was the exception, this time it was the rule.
Even the latter stages, which often had, to quote Fergie, a “squeaky bum time” feel that ensured less cavalier football, had compelling narratives.
And no-one, least of all the Brazilians, will forget their 7-1 defeat to eventual winners Germany in the semi-final.
Here’s my 10 of the best from a truly memorable 32 days.
1. Super Mario
Let’s start at the end. Gotze’s winning goal was a beauty and means he will never have to buy another Bratwurst in his homeland ever again.
Andre Schurrle’s ball was good but his team-mate’s touch and volley at pace into the far corner was out of this world. Wispy stubble can’t hide the fact he looks 14 years old — but there’s no denying he is now Super Mario.
2. Paint job
The referee’s new ability to graffiti the pitch was a revelation. Few things infuriate a fan more than watching the opposition’s wall edge forward in what they think is a daring act of covert one-upmanship. No longer. The sprayed line means everyone — including the ref — can see players flaunting the 10-yard rule. And the best thing? The spray disappears! Marvels will never cease.
3. The underdog
Everyone’s loves them — and Costa Rica were perfect in the role. A nation of just 4.5 million people qualified from their group at the expense of Italy and England before knocking out Greece in the second round. Crucially, though, they were then beaten at the right time (on penalties by Holland). Underdog lesson #1 — don’t outstay your welcome.
4. All hail Hamez
More than one friend changed his Facebook name from James to Hamez in tribute to Colombia’s young star James Rodriguez, who elevated himself into the world-class bracket in Brazil. How he was overlooked as the Golden Ball winner is as big a mystery to me as hotcross buns and fishcakes. But for influence, swagger, star quality, not to mention THAT goal against Uruguay, J-Rod was the player of the tournament.
5. RvP swoops
The case of Robin Van Persie was a strange one. After a blistering two-goal performance against Spain in one of the matches of the tournament, he largely went missing. However, his stunning swallow-dive header against the holders was as elegant a thing as you’ll see on a football pitch — apart from Shakira.
6. Brazil botch job
In a scoreline more akin to BAA field than the last four of the biggest tournament in world football — Brazil’s 7-1 capitulation was so utterly complete and their humiliation so compelling that it will go down as the standout moments of the tournament. Germany were good but the home side’s implosion was abject at best. The most interesting thing in the end was not the dire defending and fragile confidence but the obvious mental scars that will take the likes of Marcelo and David Luiz a huge effort to recover from. A home World Cup has ultimately set Brazil football back years.
7. Magic memes
Memes, usually the forte of bored students and the slick BERMEMES, came to the fore during the tournament. Suddenly there were bedroom geniuses left, right and centre. Van Persie’s swallow dive saw him in space and in Peter Pan, while the what-Tim-Howard-could-save was another highlight. My new favourite is the one featuring Mathieu Valbuena and his mascot…who was the same size!
8. No dreadlock holiday
Before the tournament, Kyle Beckerman would have been an unlikely poster boy for the USA team. Looking more like a Mishka band member than a professional footballer, the finest dreads — at least on a white guy — in Brazil instead showed the world what can be achieved by marrying a little talent with graft and desire. So much so that his omission from the Belgium game was widely questioned.
9. Sabella slip-up
Argentina manager Alejandro Sabella wins the award for most entertaining dugout performer. His constant look of worry suggests a man perennially on the verge of getting his test results back from the doctor but his coup de grace came against Belgium when a near miss saw him close his eyes in despair and lean back… too far. He lost his balance and was saved from a nasty collision with the dugout by a staff member. Hero.
10. A £75m bite
Only in professional football would an act of cannabalism result in a £75m dream move to Barcelona. No sooner had Luis Suarez nibbled at the shoulder of Georgio Chiellini than he was being lined up for the Nou Camp. And after a disingenuous ‘apology’ it seemed that was enough to satisfy Catalan chiefs. La Liga defenders may now be asking for shoulder pads.